I keep asking Detroiters how the city’s renewal can be extended beyond Midtown and Downtown. While I’ve been seeking a clear, systematic solution, I’ve learned that Detroit’s issues extend far beyond my limited understanding. From a failing education system to a poorly planned urban sprawl, the variant needs of communities cannot be summed up into some grandiose, easily-implemented solution. Instead, each community has specific needs, and addressing these needs on an individual basis would be inefficient and costly.
Labib, my Venture for America mentor, had an interesting take on the subject. He argued that the development or revitalization of every city in history began by bringing young, intelligent talent to a central location. Moreover, if Detroit wanted to return to its former glory, it needed to continue its focus on Midtown and Downtown. He acknowledged that the surrounding areas are experiencing the greatest suffering, but he emphasized that we need to begin with Midtown and Downtown to maximize the benefit of the surrounding communities. Labib made a great point, and after this conversation, my work at NextEnergy became much more meaningful.
One of my projects at NextEnergy involves a smarthome interface called AllJoyn. This open-source platform partners dozens of businesses to create the smarthomes of tomorrow. It is difficult to really explain AllJoyn due to its technical nature, but imagine having one app that, among other things, lets you adjust your thermostat, turn on your lights, charge your electric vehicle, and lock your doors. AllJoyn would be the interface behind that app, and it’s quickly becoming a reality. Dozens of companies have jumped on board, and the project is making rapid progress.
A few weeks ago, I might have deemed this project trivial; it’s not directly helping the people who need attention right now. But I have gradually accepted that this work is important to the revitalization of Detroit. If NextEnergy can help make AllJoyn a reality, it would be a remarkable feat for the future of Detroit. Not only would it attract more people to live and work here, but it would enhance the quality of life for those already here. If we can build a smarter, more efficient central Detroit, then there’s no reason the whole city won’t come back stronger than ever.